On the 19th of September 1783 Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon in history called ‘Aerostat Reveillon’. The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster and the balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground.
This was the start of what would become an epic race to claim the world’s high altitude ballooning record culminating in the 2012 Red Bull Stratos jump of Felix Baumgartner.
The first manned attempt came about 2 months later on 21st November, with a balloon made by 2 French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. The balloon was launched from the centre of Paris and flew for a period of 20 minutes. The birth of hot air ballooning!!!
Over 100 years later in August 1932 the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard was the first to achieve a manned flight to the Stratosphere. He reached a height of 52,498 feet, setting the new altitude record. Over the next couple of years, altitude records continued to be set and broken every couple of months – the race was on to see who would reach the highest point.
In 1935 a new altitude record was set and this time it remained at this level for the next 20 years. The balloon Explorer 2, a gas helium model reached an altitude of 72,395 feet (13.7 miles)! For the first time in history, it was proven that humans could survive in a pressurized chamber at extremely high altitudes. This flight set a milestone for aviation and helped pave the way for future space travel.
The most well-known Altitude record for a very long time was set in 1960 when Captain Joe Kittinger parachute jumped from a balloon that was at a height of 102,000 feet. The balloon broke the altitude record and Captain Kittinger, the high altitude parachute jump record.
In the highly publicised Red Bull Stratos project Baumgartner jumped to Earth from a helium balloon in the stratosphere. He set the world record for skydiving an estimated 128,000 feet or 39 kilometres (24 mi), reaching an estimated speed of 1357.64 km/h (843.6 mph) on the 14th of October 2012, and he became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power on his descent.
The sheer size of the balloon needed to make this project happen is unbelievable. The next graph also captures very well the size of balloons used for different altitude records in history
As part of this project, he set the altitude record for a manned balloon flight, the record for parachute jump from the highest altitude and the record for greatest freefall velocity.
Now in the 21st century more and stranger ballooning challenges and records are being created and broken. Cluster ballooning – where people fly a big set of very small balloons – being one of the most visual spectacular ones. Jonathan Trappe is the world’s leading expert in this. Among other things he cluster ballooned across the English Channel!
Ballooning kicks indeed some serious ass!